Archuleta County has signed a purchase agreement to buy the building at 4th and Lewis streets in downtown Pagosa Springs that formerly housed the Archuleta County Education Center.
In the short-term, the building is expected to house a courtroom, with the building housing only county administration in the future.
The decision to submit a purchase agreement was made last week, and was ratified by the Board of County Commissioners in a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
At a Tuesday morning work session with the board, county administrator Jesse Smith explained the course of events that began last July and led to the county submitting the purchase agreement last Friday.
In July, the courts informed the county the system would need an additional courtroom and two hearing rooms, also stating that Archuleta County ranked last among Colorado counties in the quality of facilities provided to the courts.
With that knowledge, Smith said the county was aware it needed to seek additional space for the courts (statute says the county must provide “reasonable” space to the judicial district), but that the courthouse was maxed out on space.
“We’ve gotta get some additional space,” Smith said.
Smith said the preference of the courts is to have the courtrooms in close proximity to the jail, meaning county administration would have to move, instead of providing the courts space outside of the courthouse.
At about the same time, in late summer, the roof of the courthouse was determined to be in bad condition, with the portion over the courtrooms in imminent danger of collapsing under a heavy snow load.
Because of that, the county issued a request for a contractor to repair the trusses under the roof and to replace the roof.
It was determined the county would focus on the portion over the courtroom this fall, with the second phase of the project repairing the rest of the roof next spring. The county received only one bid for the project, with that bid overbudget and otherwise unacceptable, leaving the county to rebid for only the structural work to be done this fall.
Because that construction will create significant noise, the county began looking for a temporary space in which the courts could continue business.
The county looked at five alternatives for temporary space, including other county facilities, town facilities, and commercial spaces available for rent and sale, with a consensus that leasing half of the Ed Center would be the best option to house the courts temporarily.
The operators of the Ed Center agreed to the lease on the condition that the building could continue to be shown to prospective buyers, but judicial district personnel were not pleased with that condition.
Then, last Friday, two documents were presented to the Ed Center board — a lease document extending through January, and a simultaneous purchase agreement.
The sales contract was signed by commissioner Clifford Lucero at about 11 a.m. Friday.
“I visited with the Ed Center Board Chair on Wednesday afternoon to discuss leasing the back portion of the building,” Smith wrote in a Tuesday e-mail. “They made it very clear that they did not want to lease the space because they wanted to sell, and had just recently listed it. I inquired as to what they were asking for the building and was told $250,000. They did agree to discuss a possible lease with their Board. I came back and discussed the possibility of purchase with the Commissioners one-at-a-time. All three felt the price was very fair and that we should put together a sales agreement and submit it to explore the sales option.”
Smith said he and county attorney Todd Starr put together a sales agreement.
“We submitted the sales agreement on Thursday morning, along with a lease agreement. We heard back late Thursday afternoon that their Board had approved both the lease agreement and sales agreement,” Smith wrote, noting that the sales contract had to be signed by the chair of the BoCC.
“The Court wanted the space by the end of this week in order to get their furnishings and electronics in and the Temp. Court Room ready for a Jury trial by the 17th of this month. Time was of the essence. It was made very clear to the seller that Clifford could sign the contract subject to Board ratification, which will take place tomorrow at the special meeting. If the Board does not ratify the deal is off.”
That meeting to ratify the sales contract was held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. The vote to ratify passed 2-1, with commissioner Michael Whiting voting against.
Under the agreement, the county will lease the building until the sale is final, which Smith said Tuesday morning would likely happen in December, following due diligence procedures associated with the sale.
According to the listing with Jann C. Pitcher Real Estate, the Ed Center building is 3,880 square feet in size, with a kitchen and two half baths. The original part of the building was built in 1964.
The property was listed for $240,000 on Wednesday. The sale price listed in the contract is $200,000, with lease payments applied to the purchase.
At the Tuesday morning work session, Smith explained that the building will be purchased using 1A facilities funding, as well as $66,000 in impact fees owed to the county by the Town of Pagosa Springs that must be used for capital purchases.
But, before the building can be used by the courts temporarily or permanently by the county, remodeling will need to take place.
“Renovations for temp. court space and Probation will be very minimal,” Smith wrote, “just extra electronics and moving temp court furniture into the building, all at the State Judicial’s expense. We will use the next two months doing space design on the Ed Center building for Administration purposes. We will make every effort to keep these build outs to a minimum. Once the Ed Center is ready for the Administration entities, we will move and repeat the same process for the current Admin. Space to fit the Courts needs. Again these changes will be kept at a minimum, and we have asked the State Judicial to cover the costs, but they are not required to do so. The only thing they are required to do is provide the Judges podium and bench, the Court Recorders Desk, and the furniture for the defense and prosecuting attorneys and plaintiff.”
Smith said that, until floor plans are received and bid out for the remodeling jobs, no cost estimate exists.
Despite Smith’s e-mail stating that the probation department would also move to the Ed Center building temporarily, that idea was countered Tuesday morning by County Assessor Natalie Woodruff, who expressed concern with probation clients, especially those who may be sex offenders, being so near to the middle and junior high schools.
“I just don’t think that’s appropriate,” Woodruff said.
The commissioners then discussed that county administration could move to the space and give probation the existing administration offices in the courthouse. No decision on the matter was made by the BoCC on Wednesday.
“We did not wait til the eleventh hour to do this,” Lucero said Tuesday, adding that the county has been working to find more room since June instead of on an emergency basis.
“This is the eleventh hour,” Whiting said, noting that the county has not planned for capital expenses. “This is a capital problem. It’s infrastructure.”
Whiting then indicated that a sale of the county-owned 95 acres located adjacent to U.S. 84 south of town could help offset the cost.
But, one member of the public in attendance at Tuesday morning’s work session voiced opposition to the purchase.
Mark Weiler stated that the county has a history of making ill-advised capital purchases, including the 95 acres (development of which U.S. Fish and Wildlife is fighting due to a substantial Pagosa Skyrocket population), and the county’s five acres located across Hot Springs Boulevard from Town Hall.
“I think you got snookered here,” Weiler said., urging the county to tell the courts their space is sufficient and that the courts should pay for their own space. “Stop being fearful of a bureaucratic bully. Stop doing that.”
Commissioner Steve Wadley then called Weiler “naive,” telling him the judicial system has timelines in the law that must be abided by, and that the county is statutorily required to provide space to the courts.
“I think we’re doing the responsible thing,” Wadley said.
Weiler asked if anyone had challenged the courts, with Starr responding that Pueblo had challenged and lost.
Weiler responded, saying that he is not naive about money and negotiations, and stating, “This is a poorly thought-out decision.”